By Jenna Marina Lee
ORLANDO, Fla. (Jan. 24, 2018) – During last year’s NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports Steve Hogan ’91 had a unique perspective of the game.
From the sidelines, he watched as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ children played catch with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hovered close enough to extend a handshake and a thank you. In the stands, 60,000 fans displayed their varied allegiances with NFL team jerseys of nearly every color.
Hogan, widely regarded as being the “quarterback” who brought together leaders from the public and private sector to convince the NFL to move the Pro Bowl from long-time location Honolulu to Orlando, forced himself to take a breath and look around to appreciate the final product of the community’s hard work.
“You have to pinch yourself in a moment like that. It was a neat five minutes,” he said with a laugh.
And then it was off to the next task at hand. Whether it is community projects, college football bowl season, World Cup bids or this week’s NFL Pro Bowl (again in Orlando), Hogan’s world has constantly been in motion since he joined the events department at Florida Citrus Sports in 1995.
And yet, Hogan, who has served as Florida Citrus Sports’ CEO since 2006, still wakes up every day excited to head to the same organization that he’s been dedicated to for the last 23 years.
“I just love the fact that Central Florida is constantly a community that has continued to push the boundaries and reinvent itself as it relates to sports,” he said. “As long as I’ve been here, I always feel like there’s been something new to work on. A new challenge every year to be excited about. It’s why I’ve been able to stay here for so long.”
Hogan grew up in Central Florida and spent two years at Polk State College before transferring to UCF.
Hogan said UCF’s ability to provide a student experience in a metropolitan area seemed like the right fit for him.
A journalism major with an interest in advertising and public relations, he had the opportunity to gain real-world experience within the hospitality industry with part-time jobs at places like Church Street Station.
“The class environment was fantastic, the support you get on campus and guidance – all those things were great, but it’s also the well-rounded nature of what the community is, what campus is like, the culture for students and the opportunities,” he said. “To me, it was everything together that some schools can’t provide.”
Since graduating, Hogan has been recognized by the Orlando Business Journal as a CEO of the Year; by Polk State College as a Distinguished Alumnus; and most recently in December, he received the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2017 Charles Andrews Memorial Hospitality Award in recognition of his achievements and contributions to Central Florida’s hospitality industry, as well as the community at large.
Hogan credits relationships as the key to success in his line of work.
“Relationships are what give you the opportunity to begin conversations for things that potentially won’t be available or occur for 4-5-6-7 years down the road,” he said.
Hogan said they tried landing the Pro Bowl back in 1997 when an opening became available and continued to “beat the drum” until the game was awarded to the city in 2017.
Another part of beating the drum included a more than $200 million commitment to improvements to Camping World Stadium – a project that Hogan worked tirelessly for alongside community leaders for nearly a decade to secure approval for the reconstruction.
A Win For Orlando
While the reconstruction has certainly helped land marquee events like this week’s Pro Bowl, part of the reconstruction opened the door to another passion project for Hogan: LIFT Orlando.
The non-profit was organized in 2013 and consists of business leaders partnering with west-Orlando residents to break the cycle of poverty through neighborhood revitalization. Under Hogan’s leadership, Florida Citrus Sports committed itself to the cause by intending to use the stadium as a positive economic engine. Increased profits from sponsorships and games would be directed toward funding programs that focused on benefiting the neighboring children and families.
“We’re in a position to have this impact. To not do it and have the only story 30-40 years from now be that the stadium was renovated and rebuilt and hosted successful sporting events, that would have been an incomplete story. That’s what drove us to say, maybe there’s a different approach for social innovation,” Hogan said.
Hogan knows it will take decades to create the real change that LIFT Orlando has set out to achieve, but he is already starting to see impact take shape.
Two blocks from the stadium, Lift Orlando’s $40-million mixed-income housing apartment building is set to open for new residents later this month. The project demolished a former crime-ridden, boarded up property that had been foreclosed since 2013.
Plans for a new Boys & Girls Club in the area are also in the works.
The neighborhood has rebranded itself West Lakes, and now, the public address announcer greets fans every game day with a booming: “Welcome to Camping World Stadium and the West Lakes neighborhood!”
“The residents are taking pride in serving ambassador roles on game days and telling their stories. Kids that are living in this neighborhood are making their grades and get to come to every single event here free of charge with their whole family because they’re doing their part in staying in school and staying out of trouble,” Hogan said. “This is just the beginning. Five years ago, it was an idea, and it’s really hard as you start having conversations with each other. But seeing this become reality is the best reward.
“We are – in every respect – interested in Orlando winning.”